The nosebleed was the first sign that I was probably out of my element.
“Shit, honey, you have blood on your face,” Ben said. We’d only been hiking for twenty minutes and had already dropped our packs at a bridge to eat dry discs of bread that Ben had bought from a señora at a roadside stand. The wide, cold Pinchimuro Mayo ran beneath our feet, and in the distance, we could make out the river’s source: the peak of Ausangate and the glacier tucked within its massive folds.
“I do?” I said, instinctively putting my hand up to check. Warm blood flowed over my fingers. I felt a burst of pride—my first high-elevation nosebleed!—and then a rush of disturbance. It had come on in that sneaky, nosebleed way—with no feeling whatsoever. “Oh my God,” I said. “I do.”
Ben tilted my chin up to assess the flow, then fished through his pack for a handkerchief. I pressed it against my nose, the blood seeping in thick rosettes across the thin white cotton. We were at just over 12,500 feet, and hardly out of the town of Tinke—a small village three hours by bus from the city of Cusco in the Peruvian Andes—hiking on a dirt road towards Ausangate, the area’s highest mountain. We had begun our hike at two- thirty in the afternoon, joining dozens of schoolchildren in maroon uniforms drifting home towards the smaller villages of Pacchanta, Upis, and Ucarumi: smatterings of mud-brick houses situated in groves of eucalyptus trees.
(Excerpted from Imagination & Place: Cartography anthology)